Recurring Decimals…..

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A double helical twist to affirmative action

with 2 comments

While the debate about reservations in higher education (mainly the IIT and IIMs) for the so-called ‘backward classes/castes’ rages on back in India, this story in New York Times about genetic testing adds a bizarre dimension to ‘affirmative action‘, reservation practiced American-style.

Alan Moldawer’s adopted twins, Matt and Andrew, had always thought of themselves as white. But when it came time for them to apply to college last year, Mr. Moldawer thought it might be worth investigating the origins of their slightly tan-tinted skin, with a new DNA kit that he had heard could determine an individual’s genetic ancestry.

The results, designating the boys 9 percent Native American and 11 percent northern African, arrived too late for the admissions process. But Mr. Moldawer, a business executive in Silver Spring, Md., says they could be useful in obtaining financial aid.

“Naturally when you’re applying to college you’re looking at how your genetic status might help you,” said Mr. Moldawer…..

(emphasis mine)

If you read the full story, it is not only college admissions, but genetic testing, as provided by certain private companies, is being used to potentially gain employment as minority candidates, claim inheritance rights from way back in the past, and even for immigration issues.

……Israeli authorities have so far denied John Haedrich what he calls his genetic birthright to citizenship without converting to Judaism. Under Israel’s “law of return,” only Jews may immigrate to Israel without special dispensation.

Mr. Haedrich, a nursing home director who was raised a Christian, found through a DNA ancestry test that he bears a genetic signature commonly found among Jews. He says his European ancestors may have hidden their faith for fear of persecution.

Rabbis, too, have disavowed the claim: “DNA, schmeeNA,” Mr. Haedrich, 44, said the rabbi at a local synagogue in Los Angeles told him when he called to discuss it.

Undeterred, Mr. Haedrich has hired a lawyer to sue the Israeli government. As in America, he argues, DNA is widely accepted as evidence in forensics and paternity cases, so why not immigration?

Sounds to me like a perverse satire on the theme of the brilliant science fiction film, GATTACA (don’t you just love it when films have clever titles relating to its theme?). The film showed a future where someone’s career, relationship and in fact their entire destiny is determined by their genes alone. Tying up genetic testing to obtain a slight advantage in college admissions/employment to eugenic pre-determination is probably a bit of a hyperbole. Also, (hopefully) common sense will prevail in college admission boards and when the inheritance and immigration cases mentioned in the story go to court. But with the jury system in the US, you never know – once people start smelling a sense of entitlement, you are opening a whole can of legal worms (consider the recent Vioxx cases).

For the record, I am not against genetic testing to determine your racial composition – evolutionary scientist do this on a regular basis and it helps to push that branch of science forward. I am against using it to claim unfair advantages – racial or genetic profiling under any guise cannot be good in the long term.

As for the debate on affirmative action and reservations – that is a whole different issue to be tackled, if time permits, in a different post.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 13, 2006 at 7:16 am

2 Responses

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  1. Loved the title-double helical twist to….

    Genetic testing makes sense, but for getting reservations? Even more funny when you consider that they had grown up thinking of themselves as whites.

    A good rebuttal to those who think caste/race based reservations(as opposed to affirmative action) works.

    Confused

    April 14, 2006 at 10:05 am

  2. @ confused: glad you like the title. The point here is that when you have any sort of reservations, there is a large opportunity for abuse. In one blog post/comment, someone mentioned the availability of fake certificates – I expect with increasing reservation – an increased activity in such markets. (also like Tyler Cowen mentions in this post regarding fake papers for illegal Mexicans, the prices for such certifcates might fall as well!)

    BongoP'o'ndit

    April 14, 2006 at 11:51 am


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